Seychelles (or /seɪˈʃɛlz/ in English and seʃɛl in French), officially the Republic of Seychelles (République des Seychelles; Creole: Repiblik Sesel), is an archipelago nation of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, some east of mainland Africa, northeast of the island of Madagascar. Other nearby island countries and territories include Zanzibar to the west, Mauritius and Réunion to the south, Comoros and Mayotte to the southwest, and the Suvadives of the Maldives to the northeast. Seychelles has the smallest population of any sovereign state of Africa.
While Austronesian seafarers or Arab traders may have been the first to visit the uninhabited Seychelles, the first recorded sighting of them took place in 1502, by the Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral). The first recorded landing and first written account was by the crew of the English East Indiaman Ascension in 1609. As a transit point for trading between Africa and Asia, they were occasionally used by pirates until the French began to take control of the islands starting in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid by Captain Nicholas Morphey. The islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV’s Minister of Finance.
The British contested control over the islands with the French between 1794 and 1812. Jean Baptiste Quéau de Quincy, French administrator of Seychelles during the years of war with the United Kingdom, declined to resist when armed enemy warships arrived. Instead, he successfully negotiated the status of capitulation to Britain, which gave the settlers a privileged position of neutrality.
Britain eventually assumed full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1812 and this was formalised in 1814 at the Treaty of Paris. The Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903 and independence was granted in 1976, as a republic within the Commonwealth. In 1977, a coup d'état ousted the first president of the republic, James Mancham, replacing him with France Albert René. The 1979 constitution declared a socialist one-party state, which lasted until 1991. The first draft of a new constitution failed to receive the requisite 60 percent of voters in 1992, but in 1993 an amended version was approved.
The Seychelles president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term of office. The previous president, France Albert René, first came to power in a coup d'état in 1977, one year after independence. He was democratically elected after the constitutional reforms of 1992. He stood down in 2004 in favour of his vice-president, James Michel, who was re-elected in 2006. The cabinet is presided over and appointed by the president, subject to the approval of a majority of the legislature.
The unicameral Seychellois parliament, the National Assembly or Assemblée Nationale, consists of 34 members, of whom 25 are elected directly by popular vote, while the remaining 9 seats are appointed proportionally according to the percentage of votes received by each party. All members serve five-year terms.
Politics is a topic of hot debate in the country - The main rival parties are the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) and the Seychelles National Party (SNP). Since the inception of politics in the early sixties, politics has been an integral part of the Seychellois lives. The range of opinion spans socialist and liberal democrat ideology.
The Seychelles are part of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), La Francophonie (the union of French Speaking countries) SADEC and Commonwealth organisation.
Seychelles is divided into twenty-five administrative regions, called districts:
An island nation, the Seychelles is located in the northeast of Madagascar and about east of Kenya. The number of islands in the archipelago is often given as 115 but the Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles lists 155. The islands as per the Constitution are divided into various groups as follows.
There are 42 granitic islands, in descending order of size: Mahé, Praslin, Silhouette, La Digue, Curieuse, Félicité, Frégate, St. Anne, North, Cerf, Marianne, Grand Sœur,Thérèse, Aride, Conception,Petite Sœur, Cousin, Cousine, Long, Récif, Round (Praslin), Anonyme, Mamelles, Moyenne, Ile aux Vaches Marines, L'Islette, Beacon (Ile Sèche), Cachée, Cocos, Round (Mahé), L'Ilot Frégate, Booby, Chauve Souris (Mahé),Chauve Souris (Praslin), Ile La Fouche, Hodoul, L'Ilot, Rat, Souris, St. Pierre (Praslin),Zavé, Harrison Rocks (Grand Rocher).
There are two coral sand cays north of the granitics: Denis, Bird.
There are two coral islands south of the granitics: Coëtivy, Platte.
There are 29 coral islands in the Amirantes group, west of the granitics: Desroches, Poivre Atoll (comprising 3 islands : Poivre, Florentin and South Island), Alphonse, D'Arros, St. Joseph Atoll (comprising 14 islands: St. Joseph Ile aux Fouquets, Ressource, Petit Carcassaye, Grand Carcassaye, Benjamin, Bancs Ferrari, Chiens, Pélicans, Vars, Ile Paul, Banc de Sable, Banc aux Cocos and Ile aux Poules), Marie Louise, Desnoeufs, African Banks (comprising 2 islands: African Banks and South Island), Rémire, St. François, Boudeuse, Etoile, Bijoutier.
There are 13 coral islands in the Farquhar Group, south-south west of the Amirantes: Farquhar Atoll (comprising 10 islands: Bancs de Sable Déposés Ile aux Goëlettes Lapins Ile du Milieu North Manaha South Manaha Middle Manaha North Island and South Island), Providence Atoll (comprising two islands: Providence and Bancs Providence) and St Pierre.
There are 67 raised coral islands in the Aldabra Group, west of the Farquhar Group: Aldabra Atoll (comprising 46 islands: Grande Terre, Picard, Polymnie, Malabar, Ile Michel, Ile Esprit, Ile aux Moustiques, Ilot Parc, Ilot Emile, Ilot Yangue, Ilot Magnan, Ile Lanier, Champignon des Os, Euphrate, Grand Mentor, Grand Ilot, Gros Ilot Gionnet, Gros Ilot Sésame, Heron Rock, Hide Island, Ile aux Aigrettes, Ile aux Cèdres, Iles Chalands, Ile Fangame, Ile Héron, Ile Michel, Ile Squacco, Ile Sylvestre, Ile Verte, Ilot Déder, Ilot du Sud, Ilot du Milieu, Ilot du Nord, Ilot Dubois, Ilot Macoa, Ilot Marquoix, Ilots Niçois, Ilot Salade, Middle Row Island, Noddy Rock, North Row Island, Petit Mentor, Petit Mentor Endans, Petits Ilots, Pink Rock and Table Ronde), Assumption, Astove and Cosmoledo Atoll (comprising 19 islands: Menai, Ile du Nord (West North), Ile Nord-Est (East North), Ile du Trou, Goëlettes, Grand Polyte, Petit Polyte, Grand Ile (Wizard), Pagode, Ile du Sud-Ouest (South), Ile aux Moustiques, Ile Baleine, Ile aux Chauve-Souris, Ile aux Macaques, Ile aux Rats, Ile du Nord-Ouest, Ile Observation, Ile Sud-Est and Ilot la Croix).
At the same time, the government has moved to reduce the dependence on tourism by promoting the development of farming, fishing, small-scale manufacturing and most recently the offshore sector. The vulnerability of the tourist sector was illustrated by the sharp drop in 1991-1992 due largely to the country's significantly overvalued exchange rate and the Gulf War, and once again following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Other issues facing the government are the curbing of the budget deficit, including the containment of social welfare costs, and further privatisation of public enterprises. The government has a pervasive presence in economic activity, with public enterprises active in petroleum product distribution, insurance (has now been privatized), banking (is being privatized very soon), imports of basic products (now being privatized), telecommunications (4 private ISP/telecom companies), and a wide range of other businesses. Beginning at the turn of the millennium the Seychelles Petroleum Company (SEPEC) started to develop the first fleet of modern Petroleum double-hull tankers (five vessels), which was completed by late 2007/early 2008 with the possibility to build more in the near future. The Seychelles President claims that this has opened the door to a new industry for his country and encourage economic growth by further removing over-reliance on traditional trades like fisheries and tourism which is now falling rapidly as the country's main income but nevertheless, has experienced significant growth in recent years.
Growth slowed in 1998–2001, due to sluggish tourist and tuna sectors. Also, tight controls on exchange rates and the scarcity of foreign exchange have impaired short-term economic prospects. The black market value of the Seychellois rupee is anywhere from two thirds to one half the official exchange rate. The next few years were also a bit slow due to the worldwide economic downturn and the fear of flying brought on by September 11, 2001. More recently though, tourism has roared back at a record pace setting successive records in 2006 and again in 2007 for number of visitors. The increased availability of flights to and from the archipelago due in part to new entrants Emirates and Qatar airlines is also beginning to show. New 5 star properties and the devaluation of the currency by nearly 33% by the Seychelles Government is having a positive influence on the tourism sector as well.
Both at official exchange rates and at purchasing power parity (PPP), Seychelles remains the second-richest territory in Africa in terms of GDP per capita (US$8,551 at real exchange rates and US$13,887 at PPP as of 2005), behind Réunion (US$19,233 at real exchange rates). However, in real terms it can be considered the richest independent African/Indian Ocean country as Reunion is a French dependent territory which is part of the EU and uses the Euro currency. Because of economic contraction (the economy declined by about 2% in 2004 and 2005 and lost another 1.4% in 2006 according to the IMF) the country was moving downwards in terms of per capita income; however, the economy came roaring back in 2007 growing by 5.3% due in part to the record tourism numbers, but also the booming building and offshore industries which also continue to set records.
It is important to note that Seychelles is, per capita, the most highly indebted country in the world according to the World Bank, with total public debt around 122.8% of GDP. Approximately two thirds of this debt is owed domestically, with the balance due to multilaterals, bilaterals, and commercial banks. Current external debt is estimated at 35.5% according to the IMF (2007). The country is in arrears to most of its international creditors and has had to resort to pledged commercial debt to continue to be able to borrow. This high debt burden is a direct consequence of the overvalued exchange rate — in essence, the country is living beyond its means, and financing its lifestyle by borrowing domestically and internationally.
New detailed studies and exploration show that the Seychelles potentially have large off-shore petroleum reservoirs which are yet to be discovered.
Seychelles is the smallest nation in the world issuing its own currency (i.e., not pegged to a foreign currency and not shared with any other country).
As the islands of the Seychelles had no indigenous population, the current Seychellois are composed of people who have immigrated to the island. The largest ethnic groups are those of French, African, Indian, and Chinese descent. French and English are official languages along with Seychellois Creole, which is primarily based upon French. Most Seychellois are Christians; the Roman Catholic Church is the main denomination.
The music of Seychelles is diverse. The folk music of the islands incorporates multiple influences in a syncretic fashion, including English contredanse, polka and mazurka, French folk and pop, sega from Mauritius and Réunion, taarab, soukous and other pan-African genres, and Polynesian, Indian and Arcadian music. A complex form of percussion music called contombley is popular, as is Moutya, a fusion of native folk rhythms with Kenyan benga developed by Ton Pa. , some ninety percent of the population was Roman Catholic and approximately seven percent Anglican. Other religions have been introduced with Islam being one of the fastest growing. Traditionally, despite a greater connection with Great Britain (i.e. in Education, which follows the GCSE and 'A' (advanced) Level curriculum and have a branch of The University of Manchester as one of its highest Educational Institutions and on many aspects of the Law) a British 'Sunday telegraph' travel journalist and many other notable foreign observers has stated that "the culture remains emphatically French" and about 70% of the population have a French sounding Family name, compared with only about 20% English sounding family names, the two are often mixed with the First name, such that you get an English first name and a French family name or vice-versa e.g. Jean-pierre Kingsmith. Most people are of mixed origins often of White Europeans with Black Africans, where the whites are mainly French and the Blacks are mainly East Africans.
In common with many fragile island ecosysytems, the early human history of Seychelles saw the loss of biodiversity including the disappearance of most of the giant tortoises from the granitic islands, felling of coastal and mid-level forests and extinction of species such as the chestnut flanked white eye, the Seychelles Parakeet and the saltwater crocodile. However, extinctions were far fewer than on other islands such as Mauritius or Hawaii, partly due to a shorter period of human occupation (since 1770). The Seychelles today is known for success stories in protecting its flora and fauna.
The granitic islands of Seychelles are home to about 75 endemic plant species, with a further 25 or so species in the Aldabra group. Particularly well-known is the Coco de mer, a species of palm that grows only on the islands of Praslin and neighbouring Curieuse. Sometimes nicknamed the 'love nut' because of its suggestive shape, the coco-de-mer is the world's largest seed. The jellyfish tree is to be found in only a few locations today. This strange and ancient plant has resisted all efforts to propagate it. Other unique plant species include the Wrights Gardenia found only on Aride Island Special Reserve.
The giant tortoises from Aldabra now populate many of the islands of the Seychelles. The Aldabra population is the largest in the world. These unique reptiles can be found even in captive herds. It has been reported that the granitic islands of Seychelles supported distinct species of Seychelles giant tortoises, the status of the different populations is currently unclear.
Seychelles hosts some of the largest seabird colonies in the world. Islands such as Bird, Aride Island, Cousin, Aldabra and Cosmoledo host many species of seabirds including the sooty tern, fairy tern, white-tailed tropicbird, noddies and frigatebirds. Aride Island has more species of seabird and greater numbers than the other 40 granite islands combined including the world's largest colony of Audubon's Shearwater and Lesser Noddy.
The marine life around the islands, especially the more remote coral islands, can be spectacular. More than 1000 species of fish have been recorded. Since the use of spearguns and dynamite for fishing was banned through efforts of local conservationists in the 1960s, the wildlife is unafraid of snorkelers and divers. Coral bleaching in 1998 has unfortunately damaged most reefs, but some reefs show healthy recovery (e.g. Silhouette Island). The reefs comprise a vast selection of soft corals and hard corals alike. There is great diving and snorkeling opportunity. The taking of marine turtles was completely stopped in 1994, turtle populations are now recovering on several protected islands, most notably Cousin Island, Aride Island, Silhouette Island and Aldabra. However, they continue to decline at unprotected sites. The use of gill nets for shark fishing as well as the practice of shark finning are now banned.